Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Lancaster Under Surveillance

In recent months, many people have been shocked to discover that Local Authorities including Lancaster City and Lancashire County Council have spy powers. But for years now, hundreds of bodies have been able to authorise themselves to examine any of your phone, e-mail, text and web-browsing histories that have been held by phone and internet companies.

Now, there are determined efforts to make that easier. The Home Office is seeking to build a massive database of all communications data, at an estimated cost £12 billion, which will monitor and store Briton’s e-mails, texts and calls.

ITPro reports this week that the Government’s Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) programme has already received £1 billion in funding to begin the project under the banner of the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP), which will involve the installation of hundreds of probes to monitor customers.

In August, IT web site The Register reported how sources told them secret briefings had revealed the cost of the database would run to nine figures and has already been factored into government spending plans. The IMP budget was part of the intelligence agencies' undisclosed funding bid to the Comprehensive Spending Review last year.

In an answer to a parliamentary question on 8 July 2008, the Home Office refused to provide any budgetary details, citing national security concerns.

MI5 already has a similar system to the proposed IMP extension, but can only proceed with surveillance if it has been approved by the home secretary. The Home Office says ministers are considering what legislation is needed to ensure safeguards are in place to protect the privacy of the public.

More details are expected to be released in the Queen’s speech next month.

IT PRO reported earlier this year on the possibility of the database, with the main concern among citizens being privacy.

Michael Parker, of campaign group NO2ID, told ITPro the project would be a waste of money and has called for a national debate on the matter. The group is highlighting this and several other steps being taken by Whitehall to extend its snooping on every citizen.

The NO2ID web site has been reporting on how long term plans to monitor your movements and communications for some time and notes plans have moved on significantly in recent months, speeding up moves to ensure your personal details could soon be trafficked ever more widely among officials and to foreign powers.

Concerns about data security, highlighted this year, appear to be being studiously ignored as is the huge cost of the "science fiction" project to keep records of every UK citizen's phone calls, texts and emails for up to two years at a time of monumental economic uncertainty.

The Daily Telegraph reported recently how Home Secretary has been hyping "biometrics" at Manchester airport - a trial of 'facial recognition'. But in reality it is just an excuse to get your passport electronically scanned. "e-Borders" is about collecting massive amounts of detailed information on every traveller's journey for official use. The spin is all about 'foreigners' but the system applies with even greater force to UK citizens.

The spectre of road-pricing through a 'spy in the sky' technology, agaqin highlighted in the Telegraph has also reappeared. Following everyone everywhere is the government's way of dealing with road problems.

Read the Register's full report on the IMP extension plans
Visit the NO2ID web site

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